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Elizabeth Smart was once among those waiting to receive food at the St. Vincent de Paul Dining Hall.

Were it not for the nine months she spent without a home — kidnapped at 14 by rapist Brian David Mitchell — Smart said she "would never have known what it was like to be hungry, to go without, to be cold.

"And what a blessing that meal was at that point in time."

Smart spoke Friday night at a fundraising gala honoring her, senior Mormon apostle Russell M. Nelson and Catholic Archbishop John C. Wester for what Catholic Community Services (CCS) deemed exemplary humanitarian service.

Her ordeal led her to value family and organizations like CCS, she said, which act as surrogates to those without a natural support network.

Now a broadcaster, victim advocate and 28-year-old mother, Smart lightheartedly described the panic she felt recently when her young daughter inhaled a pomegranate seed. She and her husband tried fingers and tweezers, desperately dialing unavailable relatives for advice until he used a straw to suck the seed out of her nose.

"I know it's such a silly little example, but I just think of my child and how there isn't anything in this world that I wouldn't do for her. ... What a blessing it is that we can all come together and provide those services for so many others."

Wester — who left Salt Lake City's Diocese for Santa Fe last year and has not yet been replaced — said that across society, the call to serve has become fainter as it's drowned out by a lust for power and celebrity. One symptom of that, he said, is the divisive and sometimes R-rated rhetoric of this election season.

The jovial 66-year-old said he misses the Wasatch and Oquirrh mountains that frame the valley and the people he served with for eight years. He joked that when a member of his new diocese asked if he liked Santa Fe as much, he replied a curt, "No." It was a poor time to ask, he laughed.

And though Wester said he has come to similarly regard the beauty of his new home and its people, he views Salt Lake City's interfaith community as "special."

"We had our differences, that was always going to be the case," he said, "but the differences never seemed to linger into the evening. We could always go home at night and remain friends and know that we can work together the next day."

Nelson, meanwhile, concluded his speech by quoting in succession Pope Francis and LDS Church President Thomas S. Monson about the value of serving a "purposeful life."

CCS honored Nelson, next in line to become president of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, for the 92-year-old's work as a pioneering heart surgeon who shared his knowledge with doctors in developing nations.

"I spent my entire professional career endeavoring to save lives, physical lives, as a heart surgeon. I feel right at home among you, as you are also saving lives — saving lives from deprivation, despondency and despair," Nelson said.

Among those present Friday night were Utah Gov. Gary Herbert, Lt. Gov. Spencer Cox, Utah Democratic Party Chairman Peter Corroon and two members of the LDS Church's governing First Presidency, Henry B. Eyring and Dieter F. Uchtdorf.

Smart met with congratulatory religious leaders at a social gathering before the dinner. It's rare, she said, that a day passes when she isn't approached by a stranger who tells her that they searched for her, or prayed for her. Such kindness is a sustaining force, she said.

"It makes me feel like I can keep doing this, I'm not the only one."

All proceeds from the dinner are pledged to Catholic Community Services programs that endeavor to help Wasatch Front residents —¬†regardless of their faith —¬†as they endure tough times.

Visit http://www.ccsutah.org for more information.

Twitter: @matthew_piper